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Review: Sherlock comedy 'Baskerville' hopes for thrills, ends up with charmed laughter

Petronella J. Ytsma

Petronella J. Ytsma

In an interview published in the program of Park Square Theatre's production of Baskerville, playwright Ken Ludwig says he sought to create "nights at the theater when we feel the way we do in the movies watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."

Thrilling adventure is certainly something theater can evoke: Case in point, Theatre Coup d'Etat's rip-roaring Moby Dick last fall. Baskerville, however, discards dramatic momentum in favor of featherweight meta-theatrical humor. Park Square's production is charming, but not particularly involving.

Ludwig's 2015 play is a comic adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1902 chestnut The Hound of the Baskervilles. Director Theo Langason adds interest by portraying Sherlock Holmes (McKenna Kelly-Eiding) and Dr. Watson (Sara Richardson) as women. It's a refreshing choice in a play that sorely needs some, but there's only so much Langason can do with this bland script.

The story has Holmes and Watson alerted to a seemingly supernatural terror stalking the Baskerville estate. Legend has it that a ghostly hound killed a villainous ancestor, whose descendent has seemingly died of fright at the sight of the beast. Sir Henry Baskerville (Eric "Pogi" Sumangil) has arrived from across the Atlantic to take residence, but family friend Dr. Mortimer (Ricardo Beaird) fears that Henry may be the curse's next victim.

A peculiarity of this Holmes story is that the master sleuth himself is absent for extended periods, as Watson goes on alone to meet the estate's hulking staff and its quirky neighbors — notably the naturalist Stapleton (an outrageously Edwardian Beaird) and his sister (Marika Proctor), who catches the admiring eye of Sir Henry. Holmes returns in time to reverse the curse, striding across the moors in lockstep with the faithful Watson.

It's a great story; indeed, a beloved classic of the whodunit genre. It could certainly be lampooned, but Ludwig is loathe to abandon Doyle's crackerjack plot, preferring to have his biscuits and eat them too. The show is full of winking acknowledgements of the theatrical legerdemain required to have three actors (Beaird, Proctor, and Sumangil) playing dozens of characters.

Those gags — for example, when one character is referred to while the actor playing that character is still playing someone else, forcing a quick onstage change — are among the show's high points. The result, though, is that we're left feeling little investment in the plot, and the show is left to run on sheer goofiness. If only the show could simply have been goofy, sparing us all from Ludwig's limp dialogue. ("We're looking for a woman!" "So am I! I'm tired of being single!" "No! A special woman!" "Me too! They're hard to find around here!")

The talented cast bring plenty of energy; Richardson invests a wealth of detail into her characterization of the one-dimensional Watson. Some nice touches in Eli Sherlock's inventive set help ensure that Baskerville lopes along as very light entertainment, but don't expect anything more.

IF YOU GO:

Baskerville
Park Square Theatre
Through August 5

parksquaretheatre.org